Area high school students gathered at Grayson College Wednesday to compete in the 9th Annual Welding Rodeo.


The competition was held in the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Lab and welcomed more than 70 students from Grayson and Fannin counties. Welding Program Director Alan McAdams said students were allowed to compete individually or in teams and were tested on a variety skills and approaches.


“Welding is in high demand right now,” McAdams. “Hourly wages for welders have gone up from about $14 to $18 in just the last few months and there’s lots of work but not lots of people with the skills to do it. So this competition is helpful because it helps kids learn all kinds of different ways to weld and gets them ready for that first job out of school.”


McAdams said the Welding Rodeo as also an opportunity for students to walk away with a valuable Structural Steel Certification from the American Welding Society.


“We’ll take their welds and put them under a standardized stress or damage test,” McAdams said “If they hold up, we’ll be able to give them a professional certification that let’s their employer know they’re capable of doing things to the industry standard and doing quality work.”


Celina High School student Amber Cunningham took part in this year’s competition and though she came with previous welding experience, Cunningham said she had to embark on a crash course to prepare for the stick welding portion of the contest.


“I’ve never done it, but I’ve been practicing my butt off for the past three weeks,” Cunningham said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been fun.”


With plans to attend college and study agriculture business, Cunningham said she felt her welding experience and other skills developed during high school had helped her progress both professionally and personally.


“When I first got into my school’s (agriculture) program and joined FFA (Future Farmers of America), I was nervous, not very confident and didn’t want to get my hands dirty,” Cunningham said. “But after learning how to weld, how to work on the CNC (computer numerical control) machine and how to use just about every tool in our Ag shop, I feel like I’m set and I’ve got the base skills I need to do well.”


Cunningham said while welding and machine work take time to master, she encouraged other young people to give them a try and consider a career in the field.


“You’re going to mess up you first few times, but that’s the way things usually go in Ag or just life in general,” Cunningham said. “But if you like it, stick with it and keep your head up. You’ll do well.”


Drew Smith is a reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com or on Twitter @DrewSmithHD.